For nearly 20 years now the three brothers — Isaac, Taylor and Zachary Hanson — have been making music together, but it was in 1997, when they burst on the pop music scene with “MMMBop” (for which Zac became the youngest Grammy-nominated songwriter in history). That Mercury Records’ debut — “Middle of Nowhere” — was the first of five albums the siblings have released in their musical history, the latest of which is the 2010 self-released “Shout It Out.” They are currently touring in support of not only that CD, but the previous four as well, with a road trip they’ve dubbed the “Musical Ride Tour,” where they perform one of their albums in its entirety along with songs picked by the fans at each venue via the Internet. Their Maine show is set for Tuesday, Oct. 11, at Portland’s State Theatre, and to that end Taylor Hanson called from Salt Lake City to talk about that show and the music it highlights.
Q: So how is it going with you and your brothers?
HANSON: Life is good! We’re on the road trying to pay the bills just like everybody else.
Q: Well, let me begin by saying how much I’m enjoying “Shout It Out” — from the rhythmic intricacies of “Voice in the Chorus” to your trademark, three-part vocal harmonies, it was a sheer delight. One of the first things about music that I fell in love with was close vocal harmonies. I cut my teeth on music like that.
HANSON: It’s a good place to cut your teeth. We jokingly — especially going into this record — kind of crossed a self-awareness milestone, I think, in saying, “You know in truth probably the closest thing to us is a 70s rock band, because we grew up listening to 50s and 60s music, a lot of soul music, a lot of pop music, and then we’re guys from the mid-west with the harmonies.” It was like, “Wow, we’re kind of a 70s rock band!” So when we were making this record we definitely were taking a look back a little bit — with the horn arrangement especially — and we wanted to make it more consciously one solid body of work than other records have been. There’s less bouncing around and it feels a little bit closer to being one statement. You just try to make records you’re proud of.
Q: When you’re out on the road do you have a horn section with you?
HANSON: You know, I wish we did. We basically bring out the section in the major markets when we can. We reluctantly use tracked hours — in a box — because there’s a place for them, because there are a few songs that are so identifiable that we’ll add the section with a sequencer, but we really don’t like doing that.
Q: Now, this tour you are on now — this “Musical Ride Tour,” I believe it is?
HANSON: Yeah, it is definitely kind of a retrospective event. I mean, we try to make every tour have a unique story to it. This time we’re trying to make it more of a career-spanning tour. On any given night we’ll pick one of our five albums and use that as the core of that show and bookend it with material from the other records.
Q: That must be hard — with 15 years of recording under your belt — to come up with a set list for a tour.
HANSON: Oh, yeah … you always want it to be fun and you want it to be interesting and different, but as you amass more and more albums you start to go, “Gosh, I don’t want to just play like the greatest hits kind of show where you’re always playing certain songs from each record that are the most notable.” You want to have a style and approach that’s really based on the feeling and the flow more than it is just in doing song, song, song, song. You can sort of train your fans to expect the random and the interesting. I will say, though, that this tour is more challenging in that you have to be ready to play every single song you’ve put out from night to night.
Q: That sounds daunting.
HANSON: Yeah, we actually — for the first time ever — wrote out all the rhythm charts, wrote out all the sections and created a huge work book for ourselves of (our) whole repertoire.
Q: So, what can folks expect when you hit the State Theatre on Oct. 11?
HANSON: Well, people can expect to hear songs that they know. I mean, we’ll drop the singles like “MMMBop” or “Where’s The Love” or “Penny & Me” and stuff from the new record; but a lot of the set will be defined by the fans that go on the website and vote for what they want to hear. It’ll also be featuring some period of the band’s musical history. I’m not sure which album will be featured that night, but when you feature a record it makes for a really interesting show musically. You get a lot of up and down and sideways. We haven’t really made any one-dimensional album probably just because we get bored, you know?
Q: Is there anything that you’d like me to pass on?
HANSON: Well, just the story that we’re playing a tour that really brings together the music from five albums and almost 15 years; and that it’s a tour that I think they don’t want to miss, so hopefully they’ll come out. (www.hanson.net)
Lucky Clark has spent over four decades writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.